While the Japanese gaming industry was still creaking back into gear after the New Year’s break, this year’s set of IGF finalists was announced, showcasing some of the best and brightest western indie talent. Famitsu covered the news, calling them “a whole load of creative games you’ve never heard of!” This week, I’d like to return the favour and highlight a few exuberant and experimental indie games from Japan you almost certainly won’t have heard of, first from 4Gamer’s review of the year in indie games, and then from the Comiket convention in December.
Tsukumogami (99 Spirits)
Tsukumogami are animate or possessed household objects from Japanese folklore that, legend has it, come into being when an object turns 100 years old. They are of course the focal point of this unique JRPG-cum-word game, as 4Gamer explains in a piece on its favourite indie games of 2012. “Set in the middle ages, the protagonist Hayabusa must exterminate the vengeful spirits, the tsukumogami, who are terrorising the capital. Using the spirit sword Gokonto gifted to her by her mother, Hayabusa fights the tsukumogami, which is where the game’s unique twist comes to the fore. The player must ‘rip forth’ the enemy’s true form before engaging it.”
The game is the latest in a long line of JRPGs which have experimented with battle mechanics then, but a quirky one at that. Enemies appear veiled by a protective mist, and it’s the player’s job to reveal their identity, making them vulnerable. This is done through familiar JRPG turn-based combat, and although the options available to you do grow in number as you progress through the game, the fundamentals are fairly simple. Using attack and defence reveals letters which serve as clues to the monster’s identity. Once enough clues have been gathered to correctly identify the monster, typing in the correct name reveals the monster’s bodily form, and a more traditional RPG battle begins.
4Gamer writes: “For this poor writer with his reputation for limited vocabulary, the first fight made it seem like it would be a tough road ahead, but there’s a kind of quiz-like thrill infused into the game, making it seem fresh and fun. It’s certainly a well polished battled system. The beautiful brush style artwork is also a sight to behold.”
The game is currently being localised into English by Fruitbat Factory, and is due to receive an early 2013 release in the west.
Another of 4Gamer’s favourite indie games of 2012, this “mach speed racing game”, Future GPX Cyber Formula Sin Drei is unusual in that it’s a fan-made project, based on a popular early ’90s anime, but is officially licensed by the show’s original creators. It’s also a rare breed in the sense that of all the Japanese indie games covered in 2012 by 4Gamer, it’s the sole racing game.
The twice-yearly Comiket (short for Comic Market) convention is attended by over half a million people. While it’s primarily for the promotion and sale of self-published manga, the event has gained a reputation for hosting indie PC games too. Like the comic books on sale, these games have a fan-made feel to them, frequently riffing on established genre conventions. And yes, while there are still a million bullet hell shooters being made for the beyond-hardcore faithful, there’s also a lot of raw, and often bizarre, talent and creativity on display.
“The last day of Comiket 83, the 31st of December, was the day for makers of homebrew games to show off their hard work,” 4Gamer’s report on the event reads. “Just looking through the DVD catalogue compiled for the occasion, 744 development teams were scheduled to take part. Clearly too many for for any one person to check out, but one developer group, Edelweiss, took it upon themselves to compile a movie of the best entirely original games at the event. Thanks very much Edelweiss!”
And amongst the sea of anime girls and neon bullet patterns, here are the best of the show.
Magical Battle Festa
Apparently only the prologue to a full game which is still in development, this was one of the standout titles in terms of production values, boasting high-quality 3D models and animation that wouldn’t look out of place in a late-generation Wii or Vita title. This looks to be a stylish, anime-infused take on Dynasty Warriors, with some light strategic elements, and also boasts four-player competitive and cooperative multiplayer, both on- and offline.
Another game with high production values, this handsome take on the scrolling shooter dynamically mixes variously horizontal and vertical shooting, with into-the screen 3D sections that are oddly reminiscent of the surprisingly western PC game Strike Suit Zero.
Neo Aquarium 2: Ace of Seafood
No-one names a videogame quite like the Japanese, do they? This fast-paced, twitchy oceanic shooter is a singleplayer refinement of Nussoft’s majestic multiplayer predecessor Neo Aquarium: King of Crustaceans.
Edelweiss’ full trailer compilation can be found here, though be warned, one of the later games featured is mildly unsafe for work. It’s not a porno game or anything, though – just a shoot ‘em up with a really crass aesthetic. There’s a lot of that stuff around, unfortunately.